TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — In 1970, Rich Kinkade of Wimauma, was in the Army. He ended up in Vietnam. Rich was a medic assigned to an anti-aircraft duster unit, which provided perimeter defense for field artillery and American firebases.
Military personnel sent to Vietnam are presumed to have been exposed to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange. Heart disease is linked to Agent Orange exposure.
“In late 2007, I flunked the fire department physical because I had heart disease,” said Rich. So in 2010, Rich filed a service connected disability claim with the Veteran’s Administration.
His V.A. file shows the “examiner stated that you had coronary artery disease.” The V.A. stated it needed more tests, but never scheduled them.
In August 2011, Rich sent the V.A. a letter asking when the tests would be scheduled. “The doctor had said that I had heart disease, but I might need to do confirmatory tests, how do I do that? And of course they did not respond at all to that,” explained Rich. “Just got no answer.”
A few months later the V.A. rejected his claim for a service connected disability, stating, “You do not have a diagnosis of heart disease.”
“It was by some bureaucrat based upon, apparently an opinion of a doctor that I had never met,” said Rich.
Rich appealed the denial. He was among the 26,000 veterans waiting for their appeals to be heard in the V.A.’s St. Petersburg region.
Then, in July of last year, V.A. doctors performed open heart surgery on Rich. He had advanced heart disease. “The claim that I do not have heart disease seems to be wrong,” he said.
More than a year later, the V.A. still hadn’t decided if Rich had heart disease, even though it operated on him for it.
“I’ve always regarded it as silly,” Rich explained.
Rich contacted 8 On Your Side. We contacted his congressman, Tom Rooney’s office and the V.A. at Bay Pines and told them this is one of the craziest V.A. stories that we had seen. Both promised to look into it.
Within a week, the V.A. contacted Rich by phone and told him it had determined he does in fact have heart disease.
According to Rich, the V.A. is claiming the “severe multi-vessel cardiovascular disease” that he suffered came on suddenly in April of 2015. That means his disability claim will be retroactive to 2015, not 2010, when he initially filed his claim.
The V.A., it appears, seems to be ignoring its own doctor who stated Rich had heart disease in 2010.
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